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Monday, April 18, 2022

Exhibition in photos: Shigeru Mizuki at the 49th Angoulême International Comics Festival

Shigeru Mizuki, contes d'une vie fantastique. Léopold Dahan and Xavier Guilbert. Angoulème. Musée d'Angoulême. 17 March - 3 April 2022.

In recent years, the Angoulême International Comics Festival has made a tradition to dedicate space in the Musée d'Angoulême for an exhibition spotlighting the work of a patrimonial mangaka. Since launching this practice in 2017, visitors have been generously treated to career overviews of masters such as Kazuo Kamimura, Osamu Tezuka, Taiyo Matsumoto, and Yoshiharu Tsuge. For 2022, the festival leaped on the opportunity to include Shigeru Mizuki inside the Angoulême pantheon with a grand retrospective exhibition on the occasion of his centenary.

Enriched with over 200 pieces of original artwork and documentation, curators Léopold Dahan and Xavier Guilbert set out to (re)introduce the work and life of the winner of the Festival’s Best Album in 2007 (for NonNonBâ, a manga about the life of an old superstitious woman obsessed with the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore known as “yōkai”). Their exhibition, whose full title translates as “Shigeru Mizuki, Tales of a Fantastic Life”, is structured along three distinct axes that are organized sequentially in a narrative that physically snakes through the modest installation room. 

 The first section covers Mizuki's early biography and its relationship to the development of his artistic style - a juxtaposition of a cartoony expressivity in his characters and the quasi-documentary precision in his rendering of natural decor. The second section continues with Mizuki's biography leading to his military service in the Second World War and the singular effect that first-hand experience had on his work as seen through the lens of genre (war and horror, in particular). The exhibition closes with an explosion of exquisite color illustrations of Mizuki's world of yokai, which suggests a very personal visual universe that memorializes a fading folkloric Japanese tradition.

There is a lot to take in with this exhibition at a visual, cultural and historical level, and the tightness of the space assigned to the exhibition accentuates the density of its presentation. A beautifully edited catalog collects the entirety of the exhibition, elaborating on the presented text alongside beautiful reproductions of the original artwork.

-Nick Nguyen

All photos taken by Nick Nguyen

Photos are organized in an attempt to present a visual chronology of the exhibition installation as experienced in a sequential walkthrough.


"During my childhood, most people took me for an idiot. I ended up thinking that I was one too. But with some distance, I see things differently. In reality, no one had yet to discover the big personality that was dormant inside me."

"I wanted to try to make children's books based on the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. For several days I locked myself in my bedroom."

"In 1957, I took the train to Tokyo with my five brushes and my dyes. My sister-in-law prepared six balls of rice for me [...] Moving to Tokyo, nothing guaranteed my success : I needed to struggle to survive. Even after the war in the Pacific, the battle continued."

"I stayed in the army for four years, which seemed to me to last forty."

"The genre that we call "war manga" does not exist in Japan. Or else we have to call them 'fantastic war manga'."

"The dead can never recount their war experiences. But I can. When I draw a comic on this subject, I sense my rage submerging. Impossible to fight it. Without a doubt this terrible feeling is inspired by the souls of all these men who died long ago."

"I've met yokais several times but I've only really seen them on one or two occasions. The other times, I saw them with my other senses. But I think I've got a handle on them. I'll end up reaching that gol soon enough."


"When I listened to the stories of Nonnonbâ, it was as if the spirits of my ancestors penetrated into my heart."

"I drew yokai for my own pleasure and according to the inspiration of the moment. I started to see in my work certain specific elements in all the yokai. Like a carpenter who progressively sees a house take shape based on his plans, I slowly saw the outline of a definition of yokai. In order to better determine their essence, I infinitely multiplied their appearances, without worrying about any directorial line. I think I will come to the point of understanding what yokai were really about."

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